In his fifth book, Mike Colson's "We are Mysterious" tells the story of the Africa he lived in for fourteen years. Using poverty and disaster as a backdrop, he gives the reader an inside look at people and personalities that populate a bright and hopeful African landscape. Siyincaba, a Swazi word that literally translates We are Mysterious is the national motto for people living in the Kingdom of Swaziland. This book hopes the reader finds the mystery of Africa not in the plight of a continent gone wrong but a people who try and live rightwith more than few laughs thrown in!

Excerpt of “Inhambane” December, 1985 By Dr. Mike Colson

There had been an almost palpable tension for weeks as we first made our way down from the high Lobamba Plateau and angled our meager convoy into the hinterlands of the Inhambane. Tension was a common enough reaction in the midst of what had become the eighth year of an African-styled civil war. What was uncommon were the truncated sounds of the bush out here in the harshest of lands. Their muted call forced the tension into our consciousness, as if we were being conditioned. Africa lay dormant for months at a time, and then sprung into action with the vilest of cruelties to her inhabitants. The tension was always a bad sign.

The engines of our Land Rovers raced on over the pitted tracks and washed out ravines that passed for roads in this most northern reach of Mozambique. It was indeed a ravaged land, though I am not so sure it hadnt always been that way. I certainly had never seen it teeming with life and I had been out and about there for many years. Barren would be too demure a term for most of the places we trekked to. Sight provided only a partial picture of a landscape of dirt, wind erosion, jagged acacia thorn with needles over an inch long, and a fine dust that hung in your mouth and nostrils like a paste. It had an uncomfortable taste that made me think about cowboys belling up to the bar for a shot of whiskey after a long cattle drive. Whiskey was a better cure for its thickness than water, I would imagine, but water and corn mash were our magic combination that helped us cut a different level of hell walking starvation the legacy of war refugees.

Some 700 or so had been herded and thats the best term I can use into an area some 300 miles from the nearest refugee-processing center. It would be weeks before we got them up and over the plateau and into Swazilands safe haven. The bristles on the back of our neck meant that the weeks would be hard ones. And the hairs on the back of our necks were right. The first round fell almost a full quarter mile from where we located the camp. Water bull, medical tent, makeshift sun shelters, and the fecal trench was unaffected by flying debris whose sound followed what seemed like minutes later. The second, third and fourth rounds hit the shit trench and a group of children pushing rocks with sticks. I can still see them making truck sounds with something that passed for innocence when they disappeared into a mangled dirt cloud. A lucky ten or so died quickly. Subsequent rounds made short work of most everyone else. The rest of the event is inscribed somewhere on a wall in Dantes Inferno chunks of coagulated blood lined the arena marking paths to arms, torsos, and legs all akimbo. Funny how unreal corpses look in the aftermath of carnage. There is no peace in it, especially in the souls that die in the viewing thereof: Chunks, groupings, a fairly accurate fire, and the ability to compete for resources in a land that had only one commodity that day death.

I didnt count the dead myself. The report after the fact made its best guess based on the number we should have had minus the volume of corpses that were laid into the trench. We made it to Swaziland quicker than usual. Less people, fewer issues to contend with. I still believe that even our attackers thought it was too much. Regardless, we pressed them on and some lived. I never felt that we had erred. Rather, I struggled internally with the inhumanity of it all. I conversed intellectually with the culture of politics, power, the cruelty of the methodology of revolution, and the battle to control meager resources. I just didnt want to witness it all. I died then and I die every day because if this is our life, then surely the darkness is impenetrable. I cant save them the known and the unknown and thats my version of a life lived at the curbside. They disappeared into a mangled dirt cloudand that cloud reappears again and again one face at a time.

Father, brother, daughter, 2 orphan children, adopted son, friends, children of friends, best friend, mentor, teacher, competitor, unknowns, accident victims, a woman on the road, another without a head off a cliff, 2 elderly in a car wreck in front of me, another 2 only last Thursday on a mountain road, 57 CACO calls, fellow Sailors, one Marine after another in training accidents, one 50 cal. heart shot in my very presence (followed by 40 minutes of CPR), many others and more than a few around the corner. Dust and blood at least the taste and smell never depart my senses.

I weep ever so slightly and move on. My strength is in the doing. I work not to redeem but to make a difference. The fear is not to fail, but to stop moving forward. The rutted track of road reminiscent of the Inhambane is my life. Joy cometh in the morning means little to a man standing in the dark.

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